Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia believes civil aviation and tourism are two sides of the same coin. "Without tourism, aviation loses a lot of its shine and vice versa," he said.
On the occasion of National Tourism Day
, Scindia spoke to CNBC-TV18
on the growing potential of aviation in tourism, the ministry's outlook for the next few years, on going green, and more.
Listen to the entire discussion here:
Here are some of the highlights from the interview:
The Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme basically aims at regional connectivity. "From the start of the scheme in 2016, after which execution took off in 2017, in the last five years we have got close to 457 routes operationalised. We also have a Rs 4,500 crore capex planned for airports under the scheme," Scindia said.
According to the Vision 2040 document released by the Centre in 2019, it had intended to facilitate around a 1,000 air routes and establish around 100 new airports by 2025, including green field airports, under the scheme. Scindia said that in around the last five years, the ministry has crossed 50 percent of the target on operationalisation of routes and almost touched 71 percent targets on airports. "We do aim to reach the 1,000 routes 100 airports target by 2024-25," he said.
Scindia added that nearly 2.15 lakh flights have operated via the UDAN scheme insofar the new concepts to the scheme that were brought about in the last year-and-a-half. "There is great connectivity into India in the international to domestic route, as well as on the domestic to domestic route from Tier 1 to Tier 2 cities. The last-mile connectivity is the piece of the puzzle we are trying to put together," he added
Under the UDAN scheme, the ministry has introduced a small aircraft scheme. Under UDAN 4.2, 182 routes have been awarded, of which 16 are helicopters, 15 sea planes and 118 fixed-wing small aircraft.
"UDAN 3 is where we really looked at the inclusion of tourism and synergy of both sectors. We have awarded 61 tourism routes under the UDAN scheme. Of these, 43 routes are operational today. Another eight routes will be operationalised by March," he said.
Connectivity to the northeast:
The tourism regional connectivity scheme is an area of tremendous synergy, said Scindia. He also spoke about the importance given to the northeast in the recent past in terms of aviation connectivity. "Till 2014, only nine airports were operational in the northeast. Today, we have increased that to 16. Two states in the northeast didn't have a single airport — Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Now, Arunachal has three airports. Assam has four," he said.
Scindia said that in 2014, there were 1,014 total aircraft movements in the northeast per week. "According to the latest tally in January this year, the aircraft movement per week is 1,911. So, we have almost doubled it," he said.
On going green
Talking about the steps taken in the last two years, on building back better following the COVID-19 pandemic, the civil aviation minister said the first steps taken were in making the airports green. "Today we have close to 130 operational airports. Of them, maximum are under the Airports Authority of India. We are looking at making most of them completely green by the end of 2024. We are well on track," he said, adding that as of today, there around 10 to 12 airports running completely green.
On private sector airports, Scindia said the ministry is looking at 14 facilities going green by around 2026.
"We have a chart of every single airport and the progress of it moving towards the green scale," Scindia said, adding that monitoring the "greening" of airports is on his dashboard, which he reviews monthly.
He also spoke about using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in aircraft and the challenges regarding the same. "We have already experimented with 25 percent SAF in one engine on our routes and that has been successful. The issue with SAF is not necessarily the capability of the carriageway to use it, the issue is production and transportation of SAF — that is what we need to get our arms arounnd. We are looking at increasing the production of SAF and how it can be transported so it can be used as a blended fuel in civil aviation and we working closely with the petroleum ministry on the same," he added.
Helicopter emergency services
The civil aviation ministry is also looking at helicopter emergency services and the pilot project is expected to launch in April. "The golden-hour period for any accidents on expressways and highways is of utmost importance. Along with Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, we have been looking at setting up helipads on expressways and highways to be able to evacuate anyone if the need arises. The first proof-of-concept we are kicking off with is project 'Sanjeevani', with AIIMS and Rishikesh. In a 150km radius of AIIMS, we are setting up helipads across the expressway. We are waiting for current viability gap funding from the state and then hopefully we will launch it sometime in April," he said.
Scindia said it is very important that a hub for aviation is created in the country. "In 2019, we had a 144 million domestic travellers and roughly 64 million international travellers. I think it is important that we create a hub in India where domestic-to-international connectivity and (vice versa) becomes a reality. Today, we are looking at one of the metros — the possibility of creating a hub structure where the volatility of the incoming domestic flights as well as volatility of departure in international routes, that volatility curve is smoothened out; terminal-to-terminal transfers are made expedient. Therefore, the creation of a global hub domestically within India becomes a reality," he said.